Broken trees are something that everyone has heard horror stories about. This is a very real concern, especially when buying off of the internet where you are often not able to view the saddle first or try before you buy.
Off topic for a moment - ALWAYS try a saddle before you buy! There are so many differences from one saddle to another that the only way to ensure that it will tick all of the boxes for both you and your horse is to try it. Often a rider will feel much more "at home" in a particular model and in many cases, the horse will tell us which model he prefers by slight (and sometimes not so slight!!) changes in his way of going, attitude or performance. Remember, a 17"MW in one model of saddle is not identical to a 17"MW in another. We have another article coming soon on saddle designs, tree shapes and variations within a fit so keep an eye out for that!
In some cases a saddle with a broken tree is able to be spotted a mile off but others show no visual signs of damage. Twisted trees, popped rivets, cracked head plates and damaged stirrup bars can very easily be missed if the saddle is not carefully inspected.
If you are looking at a second hand saddle here are a few things to check:
1. Are there any visual signs of damage such as; scratches, dents, scuffs?
2. Does the saddle look straight to the eye when checked on a flat, square surface?
3. Ask questions and ask for the saddles history. Saddle fitters take notes which are sent to the client at or after their fitting session. This is a really good thing to have, similar to a vehicle service history.
4. Flex the tree... Always flex the tree! This will give you an indication of any weakness, unlevelness or unusual squeaks, creaks or clunks (none of which are healthy noises for a saddle to be making)
5. Most importantly: Get the saddle checked over by a qualified saddler or saddle fitter to ensure soundness and safety.